What struck me about this episode of The Story Grid Podcast was Tim’s confusion about how to use Revelation Turning Points to best effect. We talk about one scene in particular when Tim was unsure of his use of a piece of exposition (the length of his protagonist’s jail sentence) as a means to turn a scene from a positive to negative.
What’s very important to remember is that there are two ways you can turn the charge of your scene’s value. There is an active turning point wherein a character takes an action that shifts the value state. For example a character may attack another character in a crime story. And there is the use of revelation to turn a scene too. This is a moment when a critical piece of information is revealed. Obviously if you turn all of your scenes the same way (action, action, action, action etc.) your reader will begin to lose her ability to suspend disbelief. Life turns in both ways. So should fiction.
Plus when employed properly, Revelation Turning Points allow a writer to drop in exposition in key moments without having to resort to inane dialogue.
Click the play button below to listen or read the transcript that follows.
[0:00:00.5] TG: Hello and welcome to the Story Grid Podcast. This is the show dedicated to helping you become a better writer. I’m your host, Tim Grahl and I am a struggling writer trying to figure out how to tell a story that works. Joining me shortly is Shawn Coyne. He is the creator of the Story Grid, the author of the book Story Grid and an editor with over 25 plus years’ experience.
In this episode, well, we keep looking at my rewrites. I figure at some point all of you are going to get tired of this but you keep listening and so we just keep diving deeper into the book. So we go over another rewrite of the same scene and we also dive into just some bigger questions I have about how to rewrite these scenes correctly, how to do it the right way maybe on the third time, and we talk about also just laying out the rest of the beginning hook.
So I hope you enjoy it and let’s jump in and get started.
[0:00:53.5] TG: So Shawn, I went back into my little writing hole and took this scene and rewrote it with your feedback and I actually ended up expanding it into two scenes and before you kind of give me you feedback, I wanted to tell you what I was thinking through it. So the first scene was the one where you, you know, it started off like two or three drafts ago as like them sitting and having coffee and 83 just telling Jessie how the world was different.
[0:01:24.1] SC: Right.
[0:01:25.2] TG: Then you talked about, “Okay, let’s make it action oriented.” So I did that where they’re going out into the world and you actually see the world as she’s learning about it but when I wrote it that way, I kind of got to the end of the scene and it just fizzled out because I couldn’t figure out where I was going. So we talked about ending it and we could have ended it moving from uniformed to informed but we decided to do safe to unsafe.
So that’s where the plug comes undone and the old lady wakes up in the bed and attacks Jessie and so I ended it with a cliffhanger and then the second scene starts with the end of the previous scene where Jessie’s fighting her off and 83 saves her and we have all of this in the show notes if you want to take a look. But I struggled with the second scene because 83 saves her and then they’re cleaning up and then I basically have to like do something with this scene and I need to get it to the point where the following scene is when Jessie basically runs away and tries to go back home.
[0:02:29.0] SC: Yeah.
[0:02:30.6] TG: I was trying to do something that, because we just had the super adrenaline thing and something more, you know, this one I would try to move from uninformed to informed. So I was trying to think like, “Okay, she was just physically attacked,” and now I’m trying to make sure, really up the dial of what Jessie’s gotten herself into by basically saying what the scene had seen really was, making Jessie realize how long she’s committed to this thing
I worked on it like three or four times because I felt like it was just this kind of filler scene and then what I realize with both of the scenes is once I’ve worked on something three or four times, I have no idea what it is anymore. Because in my head I’ve got like four or five different versions of this that my brain can’t tell apart when I think about the scene. When I read it, I can’t read it fresh, I’m reading it with all this other stuff in my head. So I can no longer tell if it’s any good or not of if it even make sense.
So anyway, that’s where I’m at, I just want to get that out there because once you give your feedback I didn’t want that to get lost in the woods but that’s where I was kind of at with it.
[0:03:44.2] SC: Okay, well, I’m going to give you some really good news to start with. Both scenes work and both scenes are absolutely pushing your story forward in a way that is consistent with the theme of your genre, which is thriller coming of age. So the global genre, I want to take one step back here because your confusion is completely understandable because what you’re doing right now is you’re mired in the minutia of the story itself.
So you’re dealing scene by scene right now and I think what makes you personally Tim, comfortable is big picture of you and when you start to get deeper and deeper into the minutia, you get a little bit panicky. That’s fine because a lot of people, it’s the other way around, they feel more comfortable in the minutia and don’t like to go global. That’s actually more prevalent than what you’re experiencing.
But I’ll tell you what the really good news here is. Is that because you have been so concentrated on the value shifts of your scenes and making sure that they’re consistent with the overall inciting incident and global external genre of your story, which is thriller, although it does have elements of post-apocalyptic stuff and sci-fi and all that sort of, you know, those things that we talk about in terms of style and reality, those five genre clovers. The core external genre is thriller and the core internal genre is coming of age.
So anyway, when you’re dealing with minutia and you’re consistently dealing with the value shifts that are consistent with your external genre, you don’t have to worry so much that you’re getting lost in the woods. Because when you have time and you take a step back which I, as your editor right now, I’m able to have the long view whereas you’re having the very minutia scene by scene view. And so just to give all the listeners sort of a quickie synopses of the story progression so far, the story opens with a young girl who is caught stealing food from some house and we discover that she’s been caught by an authoritarian figure who is saying, “Hey, don’t’ worry, I see that you’re caught here, but we have a remarkable opportunity for you to come to this place that has the central power in your society and we’re going to train you to be one of the upper members of society.”
The climax of that first scene is that the young girl says, “No thank you, I’m not going to do that, I’m not going to go,” and so the next scene is the consequences of her action, which are very devastating. She is physically harmed, her head is shaved, she is shamed, she is thrown into the lower depts of society and that scene ends with her being rescued by two figures who come out of sort of the darkness and carry her away. Now, the third scene, which is now, which we actually ended up cutting. That one, let’s not even talk about that one. What we’re talking about now is…
[0:07:04.9] TG: That never happened.
[0:07:06.2] SC: No, that never happened. What we’re talking about now is the progression of your story in the next scene. We’re picking up where what happens after the two shadowy figures have rescued this young girl who has been shamed and has been cast to the ground, her head has been shaved and she has a metallic sort of dome attached to her head and it’s really frightening.
So now we’re entering this scene, which we’re talking about now and the young girl wakes up and she is greeted by a bald woman who turns out to be her mentor figure and the bald woman in your scene presently walks her through a day in the life of somebody who is numbered, who is at the lower depths of society in this world. It’s a very striking and strange world that you’re presenting to the reader, things are almost backwards where daylight is hellish and night time is the only time for people to sort of be able to be active.
So people sleep during the daytime and only the lower levels of society are awake during the daytime and it’s their responsibility to clean up after the upper levels of society are sleeping. This scene takes us through that early morning agenda. We’re literally actively walking with the character as she’s learning what is necessary to survive in this world. A nd just to take one commentary step back, this is, in the Kurt Vonnegut sort of six story paradigm, this is the man in the hole story arc where your lead character falls into a deep hole and so what emotionally the reader is trying to surmise here is, “How is she going to get out of this situation?”
So hat is what emotionally drives the narrative through the reader, they want to know what’s going to happen next. How is this girl going to get out of this situation? Your scene continues with them going on their daily chores and as they were doing the chores, the young girl inadvertently knocks out the cable that’s attached to one of the people in the higher level who is knocked out and sort of sleeping in a day dreaming sleep in some other nether world that we don’t really understand as of yet.
So there’s a lot of mystery that you’ve already established here for the reader is they don’t know exactly why this people are zoned out and have cables in their head at night time. What we do discover is that the young girl pulls the cable out, she’s attacked as if that person who has been in the cable is almost coming out of some sort of shock, some sort of drug induced shock. So she’s attacked, she’s scratched, she has to cover herself and that’s how you end the scene, which is a really great technique for action stories because you’re ending the scene of the climax of the scene itself. So that’s the way you establish a cliffhanger to get the reader to try the next chapter and it works here because it’s consistent with your external genre. Now, if you were writing a love story and you did that early on, it may or may not work because you have to establish a lot of different things in a love story that don’t require cliffhangers at the early part. That was a good choice on your part.
The next scene, scene number four now, which is you talked about as number five is the resolution of the prior scene then kicking into another scene, which is the fallout from the woman who has had her plug yanked, who is put back into this netherworld and now time is a wasting and Jessie and 83 have to get out of that place as quickly as possible because they have a lot of other houses that they have to clean. Now, you were concerned earlier when you started this conversation about whether or not you made the right choice about the revelation that Jessie has no idea what her sentence is in this underworld of society and 83 who is in the position of authority to know, tells her, “Well, the truth of the matter is, you got 25 years.”
Now, that I think on your part was a great decision and the reason why is that you turn the scene in the opposite way that you had turned the previous scene. Now, the very first scene that you wrote turned on revelation and that was when Jessie says, “No, I’m not going to go.” So your very first scene was a scene that turned on revelation, the second scene was a scene that turned on action and when those two figures came out to pick her up, that turned the scene from a negative to a positive because she was being saved. Your third scene turned on action again when the sort of drug induced coma woman attacks Jessie.
Now, for this fourth scene, you wisely switched it up and turned it on revelation and the reason that that was a really good decision is that you used the momentum of the resolution from the prior action scene pushed the reader into this next scene and intuitively, they’re thinking, “Oh something else is going to happen, something active is going to happen,” and instead what you did is you changed it on revelation and she confessed to Jessie, “You got 25 years.” Now, what’s really good about that decision is that it provides enough motivation for Jessie’s decision in the next scene, which is her trying to escape.
[0:12:56.3] TG: Okay.
[0:12:57.4] SC: So all in all, I think — now of course, as you go through your second, third, fourth, fifth edit of the book, you’re going to tweak these scenes, you’re going to add more language, you’re going to flesh them out a little bit or cut t hem back or whatever you decide to do. But for now, these are four strong working scenes that are progressively complicating the story in an organic way so when we’re literally following one character as she’s moving from day to day in a very strange world.
So I think this four scenes are doing you a lot of good and what’s nice is a lot of action stories start with action as your turning point and revelation and you switched that up. You started with a revelation as your turning point and your second scene was an active turning point, your third scene was an active turning point and you went back to revelation. So you’re mixing it up, you’re moving your valences of your values properly so that we’re moving from negative to, I forget off the top of my head. The first scene move from, she gets caught so it’s negative and then she gets offered her thing, which is positive and it turns negative when she turns them down. So it moves negative, positive, negative.
The second scene moves from negative to positive, the third scene moves from positive, she’s rescued by 83 and it turns negative when she’s attacked. Now this scene number five, it turns negative at the beginning because she’s recovering from the attack then positive when 83 saves her and gets her back on track and then negative again when she makes the revelation. So you move negative, positive, negative in this one 795 word scene that it embedded a lot of active information in a short menisci and that’s great. That’s what keeps people wanting to read more because you’re giving them things that are happening organically that are bringing a narrative velocity to the story that will want to keep them turning pages to find out what happens next.
[0:15:08.0] TG: Okay, so awesome. I feel good about that. Yeah, I tried to sit down and like write out where the scene was going and what was the value shift and everything before. Because we talked about that a few weeks ago of like, I had too many scenes, a set of 11 from the beginning hook that I turned in, there was a good four or five that didn’t have a value shift.
[0:15:29.9] SC: Right.
[0:15:31.1] TG: So I’m trying to make sure ahead of time, when I sit down to write a scene, I think about that because you know, that moment a couple of weeks ago when it clicked for me of like, I never really understood the whole “how do you know if it turned from positive to negative?” Because like this scene where she was shamed, I’m like, well that ends negative but it’s attached to the value that’s shifting.
Since she went from unsafe to rescued, that’s a positive shift even though she’s not in a great place at the end.
[0:15:59.8] SC: Exactly.
[0:16:00.8] TG: So I’m now looking at, so that’s four scenes. I kind of want to make sure I’m understanding what we decided to do for the rest of the beginning hook. Because we decided to save the revelation of her brother being alive until the middle build and the thing that puts her over the edge to agree to go is her friends being shamed.
[0:16:25.8] SC: Yes.
[0:16:26.8] TG: She was the one that caused that. So let me make sure I have the story kind of moments right that we agreed on. So we’ve got her now to this point where in the next two scenes are basic, well the next scene is she runs away from the numbered that night which is during the day I guess, which would be when everybody would be awake. I don’t know, I’ve got to think about that. But basically she runs away to home and while she’s there, the numbered, 83 and the other numbers show up to bring her back because they can track her and she didn’t realize that.
[0:17:02.8] SC: What she also does, I want to interrupt there. This is an important part to mention is that you set up in this scene that she reaches out to contact her under ground group of friends. So as she’s escaping, she puts a note underneath the stone in the courtyard so that we don’t need to understand what she’s doing because when those two kids show up we’ll understand, “Oh, she put a note there.”
You’re giving respect to the reader by not gilding the lily and overdoing this reaching out to her friends in the underground. So that’s an important thing to establish here and also, this scene and I’m sorry to interrupt, but it’s important to remember, we talked, we had a whole episode probably a year or ago or so about the Kübler-Ross change curve for story and that operates too when you’re thinking about the psychology of your protagonist and just to remind everybody, one of the first things that happens when something really upsetting happens to a person is that they’re in complete shock, right?
So the beginning of this story is our lead character makes a decision that is extremely harmful to herself. But because she’s 12 years old, as children are one to do, they’re not fully thinking of the ramifications of the decisions very early. So when she does get shamed, there’s a level of shock that she undergoes in that moment and she denies what’s going on when she wakes up the next morning. She wants to go home, she doesn’t want to put on her clothes, she’s sort of mouthy to 83. She’s denying her really nasty existence at this point.
Then she gets angry. She’s talking about not wanting to clean up the pee of this people and, “Why do I have to clean this house?” And then she starts to bargain with 83, “Oh, maybe I can do this, maybe I can do that?” Now, she’s reaching this point where she comes in this realization that she’s in it deep. So what she wants to do now is bargain her way out. This is pushing her into your next scene, which is her wanting to go home and getting daddy to take care of everything or mommy to take care of everything. This is a way we bargain with ourselves, we say, “Oh, if I can just get Tim to fix all my problems then I won’t have to deal with my website.”
[0:19:35.1] TG: Well I’ve been thinking too of like how my kids process things and they assume, which is healthy, that I will help them.
[0:19:43.0] SC: Right.
[0:19:46.1] TG: You know? So they’ll get themselves into situation and when they get scared, they’re like, they just immediately look to me or Candice to save them and so I’ve been thinking about that of that whole like “they don’t’ think long term”. So Jessie was just kind of like, “Fuck you, I’m not doing this,” and not thinking about the ramifications. And then when the ramification show up and they get worse, the first things my kids would do is look to me to fix the problem.
So then in the next scene, that’s where I establish one, they can’t but I also want to establish like her dad won’t. He won’t even try, because he’s afraid. So we’re establishing that she’s on her own and then the next scene is Jessie’s still running, they finally get her to come back but on the way back, one of the numbered die because we have to, we decide we were going to share the consequences with that and then the big changes were going to be that.
And then 83’s going to be punished in some way for a numbered stepping out of line and losing one of the numbered as well. Because 83 is in charge, she gets punished in some way and then what I’m struggling with is how to move from there to getting her friends involved because I’m like, are we turning up the fire too much? Because I’m like, at this point, wouldn’t she just call it? “Okay, I’m out, I’ll go,” you know?
[0:21:15.7] SC: That’s a very good point and you know, after being away from this for a little while, I do think that we should do one or the other, not both. Meaning I think nobody should die, one of the number shouldn’t die but there should be the threat of death. But I do think 83 should be punished and what’s going to stop Jessie at that point form surrendering is 83. So 83 I think would be, we could establish her as a Judas figure or we could establish her as, you know, just one of those people and we all know them, I may even be one of them who just rebels for the sake of rebelling. They almost enjoy being on the opposing side of whatever power there is. So 83 could be one of those people who…
[0:22:11.5] TG: But isn’t that what Jessie is? Wouldn’t that be kind of doubling up?
[0:22:16.4] SC: Well, I think it is what Jessie is but there’s an evolution in that kind of character. Jessie’s going to change. 83 will never change because she’s a secondary character. One of the things that you have to think about when you’re creating your story, and this isn’t, you can really get bogged down in characterization and a lot of people do without every thinking — my point of view is, as everybody can probably tell, is work through your story first, work through the evolutions of your value shifts and your scenes and your global story.
What you will discover is as you are working through that, you will inevitably have to start making character decisions and there’s probably a book that I should write about character that I haven’t written yet. But what you want to do in your story is to surround your protagonist, if you’re writing an arch plot, to surround your protagonist with figures that are very similar, that are one aspect of his or her global character.
So 83 could become that sort of rebellious, internal part of Jessie that refuses to give quarter. What I’m thinking is that if 83, like Jessie could go to 83 and say, “Enough is enough. I’ll go to the capital, there’s no point in you suffering for my decisions.” Not in exactly that kind of adult kind of way but to say, “Look, enough is enough, I’ll do it.” And 83 could say to her, “No, I need to be punished for this tyranny so that others might see, others might change their behavior based upon what I go through. So please, don’t do that for me and in fact, if you do, do that for me, I will be angry or upset with you.”
I’m just making this off the top of my head, it might not sound very good right now but my point is that this is a way to establish this under pinning of Jessie’s having, you know, understanding that she’s starting to really affect other people and decisions that she made and she’s ready to sacrifice herself for somebody who is in trouble because of her actions. So you could have 83 stop her from giving in at this point and then 83 could suffer the consequences. That could then perhaps we are gilding, maybe we are putting too much in getting her out of this hole into finally agreeing to go to the capital.
Right now she’s going to the capital, she would be going to the capital in a position of weakness to save 83 form being punished for it and what we need to do is to figure out how she can get to the capital by saving not only her friends in the underground from the shaming, slavery problem but maybe bringing 83 with her or something. I’m not sure. But you do bring up a very good point, are we going too in this beginning hook and adding too many progressive complications that are too similar so that the reader might get weary of this and say, “Come on, let’s get in the capital already.”
[0:25:32.8] TG: Yeah, well, so a couple of thoughts I had, one is I’ll have to come up with a clever punishment because if it’s just like her getting whipped or something, it’s way too similar to the shaming at the beginning. But that’s work for me to do. I kind of like, I’ve got to think about the motivation but I kind of like 83 keeping her, Jessie almost making the decision and 83 pulling her back form that ledge and then one more thing happening that puts her over the ledge. Because it’s like, then we basically had three moments. We have when she’s attacked and tries to go home, when 83 is attacked and then when her friends are attacked, whatever that looks like.
[0:26:14.6] SC: Yeah, the other thing that you could do is take an opportunity to present the psychological warfare of the reigning power. What I mean by that is instead of it making it a physical abuse, you make it a public, like maybe 83 gets additional, you know, she was due to get out from the number early or something and now she’s got extra years on her sentence and during the ceremony of her getting those extra years, Jessie makes a movement to come forward to try and save her and that’s when 83 silences her or something. I’m not sure.
But one of the things we have to keep in mind is we’ve got a really nice action scene coming up and to balance that with perhaps a more cerebral, public event that is not as terrorizing as the shaming, that could be — but, you know, this are decisions that you need to make as the creator and I’m just throwing out ideas so that you can throw out the ones that you don’t like.
[0:27:22.2] TG: Yeah. I guess I’m making sure like I have my sign posts at the right place. Where, so if we’re going to 83 and that’s not quite enough to put her over the edge and then we go to her friends and then whatever happens to them is enough to put her over the edge to make the call that she’s going to go. I feel like somewhere in here, there needs to be a reminder to Jessie from the powers to be that she can end this whenever she wants. Because we haven’t really established that. Like in the beginning, she was offered this and she said “no”. But since then, it has not been established that she can end this just by giving up.
[0:28:03.3] SC: Then you know, that’s part of the scene that we’re talking about, you could have the authority figure psychologically shame her in front of her brethren. Jessie’s now part of the numbered tribe, right?
[0:28:19.9] TG: Oh, she needs to get kicked out of that tribe too.
[0:28:22.1] SC: Sort of, yeah.
[0:28:23.9] TG: As soon as they find out she can just walk away whenever she wants, they probably wouldn’t like her very much.
[0:28:29.4] SC: Exactly. So that would be something that you could do. It could be, you know, when the guard comes in to the inmates, in the prison and says, “Okay fellas, one of you guys we understand has been getting contraband cigarettes in here and until that person comes forward, you will all be in solitary confinement.”
So whoever is that person becomes hated by everybody else, it’s what sports coaches have been doing for centuries. “Until Coyne learns how to not go off sides, we’re all running five laps to begin each,” — not that that happened to me, but that’s what coaches do to get the team to police itself, right? That’s what the marines do.
[0:29:18.5] TG: So I can establish maybe after she comes back into the fold — okay, what if I just establish that she’s like being taken care of and becoming a part of that tribe and then when they come to punish Jessie for trying to escape but they announce, she’s not allowed to be touched because of all this other reasons so they actually grab 83 and punish her? So now she’s getting ostracized in that way. I don’t want to get too deep into this because this is my work to do but that’s kind of…
[0:29:52.3] SC: Yeah, that’s the right way to go, that’s the instinct that makes sense. How can you — here is the problem that must be solved: how can you turn up the temperature on Jessie to make her give in while also telling the reader more about this world? So to make somebody, you know, they fall into the lower tribe and then they have that tribe reject them too. Now, they are outside the lowest of the low.
[0:30:23.6] TG: Yeah so that alone pushes her towards going to the capital?
[0:30:28.0] SC: Or it makes her even more resolute like, “Oh great, so even you losers aren’t going to help me out.” So then that would motivate her to become even more intractable perhaps, I’m not sure.
[0:30:45.8] TG: Well will that motivate her to try to work with her friends to get to escape and that’s what gets them caught and that’s when she can’t take it anymore?
[0:30:54.8] SC: Right. Well once they’re caught, it’s over. She lost her father and her mother, then she lost her new group of tribal members and then she loses her intimate friends, she can’t do that. She’s got to give up at this point. They won, and she’s got to do what they tell her to do. This is a way of getting her to the magical world because what we’re talking about, we started this conversation about the global genres that you’re writing in and we’ve been talking about the external genre, which is the thriller. But the big story here, the one that people are going to be attached to is the coming of age story and the coming of age story circles is in the same realm as the hero’s journey.
And in the hero’s journey, the beginning of the story, the hero gets a call, they refused the call and eventually they’re beaten down to the point where they accept the call. They move from the ordinary world into an extraordinary world. They physically leave their environment that they know pretty well to a completely different world, a magical world. That’s when Katniss moves to the capital to become part of the hunger games, she’s inducted into that society, she learns the rules there, she accepts that calling. So this is the whole point of this beginning hook is to grab the reader, put our lead protagonist into a man in the hole kind of emotional arc until she realities, the only way that she is going to get out of this situation is to give the authority what they want.
[0:32:37.3] TG: Yeah, so as I pulled up the circle of the hero’s journey and the first five steps are ordinary world, call to adventure, refusal of the call, meeting the mentor and then crossing the threshold.
[0:32:50.1] SC: Right.
[0:32:50.2] TG: So I feel like we mixed that up a little bit. It’s been more like call to adventure, refusal of the call, meeting the mentor, ordinary world and then she’s going to cross.
[0:33:03.5] SC: Yeah, that works.
[0:33:05.1] TG: So this is following the hero’s journey so far?
[0:33:08.0] SC: Yeah, and it’s always a good thing to think about that as you’re contemplating the scene to scene, sequence by sequence movements of your story because we’ve been talking very specific scene movements over the past few weeks. Now we’ve got four strong scenes and we want to say to ourselves, “Okay, how do we get to crossing the threshold,” right? The sequence of denial of the call is pretty much in the first scene of your story. Then meeting the mentor happens in the third scene and the fourth scene is the mentor revealing to her, “Hey, get used to it honey, you got 25 years here.”
So the next scene is her trying to get back to the way things used to be, which is what we always do when confronted with a very dark change. Even a really great change. But anyways, so I think your story is moving and it’s progressing organically through the stages of the hero’s journey as well as the Kübler-Ross personal, psychological coping with change. The questions that we’ve been talking about, do we want to have a death so early? Probably not. I think you’re right about that. But we do want the threat of death, we do want the threat that when that light goes off, good things don’t happen.
And then we want to establish that okay so now, Jessie’s abstinence is threatening other people. So that tribe is going to reject her. She’s going to take one last desperate act to go back to her, the usual people who always come to her aid and then she puts them in danger. So it’s at that point where she must surrender, she must make the heroic choice and say, “Enough, enough. I’ve put too many people in danger, I now have to accept this calling, even though it terrifies me and I’m going to go.”
And so that is putting her into the threshold of movement from the ordinary world to this magical extraordinary world that’s going to explain to the reader what the hell that cable is delivering into the cerebral cortex’s of this people, what they’re doing in that fantastical world that’s made up that virtual reality, why it’s so important and why Jessie is so important to this authority bureau that they’re pulling out all the stops to get her just to even accept the call, and they need her to be at their mercy when she gets there. They don’t want to just drag her there.
Some people would say, “Well why doesn’t the authority figures just drag her there?” Because they need her to go there after being defeated. She now knows that if she doesn’t do what she’s told, there’s going to be massive consequences, not just for herself but for everybody that she marginally and even mostly cares about. So that’s why they don’t just arrest her and take her to the capital, and I think that’s clear.
I think it’s clear that this authority figure is, they are working to get Jessie psychologically to a breaking point so that they can rebuild her. They can rebuild her with tantalizing things that will get her to do their bidding for them and if they just arrested her, they’d spend months locking her in the cell, they couldn’t really harm her because her parents were far away, everything would be third party. So this makes sense.
The trick now for the next several scenes is to make those scenes, getting her to the threshold of the extraordinary world compelling. In and of themselves. Like what we did in redoing the scene where Jessie wakes up and has coffee with her mentor and we transformed that into her going into this very dark, horrific environment with her mentor who is showing her the ropes of this horrific job that she’s going to have to do for the next 25 years. That’s interesting, as opposed to a reader reading about a coffee klatch.
[0:37:20.6] TG: Yeah, I guess pushing it, it’s so hard. It feels like when you first start to learn your balance on a bike or whatever and it’s like, you start to get it and then you over correct the wrong way and fall over. And that’s what I was like, okay, saying that she stuck there for 25 years, is that like just shooting just too much? Or is that like, “no, we need something strong enough to get her to run away”? Because that’s what I was trying to think of, it’s like okay, she’s now afraid physically, I need to do something that will mentally kind of break her to leave, run away.
[0:37:55.6] SC: What you’re doing and this is what Robert McKee always — I love this phrase that he uses. “You’re using exposition as ammunition” and what that means is that wouldn’t it be…
[0:38:06.1] TG: That’s one of those things you say all the time that like, I feel like I know what it means but I don’t actually understand what that means.
[0:38:12.2] SC: Oh okay. Okay, what it means is that what you could have done in that shaming moment is you could have had the mayor of the town say, “And by decree of authority, I now sentence you to 25 years with the numbered.” Bang and here’s your thing, right? That’s boring right? Because we are so enveloped in her getting that horrible crown put on her head and being stoned and having her hair cut off that we don’t need that extra little thing. The only reason to put that in is to load in the exposition, right?
So what people would say to me, another writer would say to me is, “But how am I going to let the reader know that she got 25 years?” I would say, “Well why don’t you use it as exposition as ammunition?” And what that means is use that revelation of exposition as a way to move, to turn your story. So here’s…
[0:39:06.3] TG: Oh, so you’re basically saving it for when it’s actually useful.
[0:39:09.3] SC: Exactly. Save the secrets, save the information. Remember, information is power. Your reader doesn’t have any information. So when you choose to give them information, make choices that you can use to turn your scenes as opposed to just making stupid dialogue decrees or, “Hey, remember Joe, that time when we were back in college and you had that terrible mononucleosis that you never recovered from?” “Yeah, I remember that.” “Anyway, I was thinking of that the other day as I was riding my bike.”
We laugh but you read a novel and thing after thing and those things are in there all the time and those are the things that readers hate because they see right through it. They know that they’re going to have some mononucleosis sub plot come in and three or four more chapters and the writer will be, “Well I had to lay that in, or they wouldn’t get the mononucleosis part.” And as an editor, you can say, “Well you can’t do that, you have to use your exposition as ammunition to turn your scenes into revelations as opposed to that.” Then you get the wide eyed, glassy eyed look of somebody who doesn’t know what the hell you’re talking about.
[0:40:20.6] TG: Yeah, because for a couple of months now, I keep, when I’m writing the scenes, I’m thinking, “Put as little in as possible,” because, and you haven’t had to say it yet. I’d rather Shawn tell me to put extra in than say, “Take all of this extra exposition out or these extra things.” So I’m trying to put as little in as possible and explain as little as possible and it was funny in that scene, I think I deleted the 25, that part of the conversation about revealing that it was 25 years, probably three times and put it back in. Because I’m like, “Tap, tap, tap. No, no, no. This is too long or it’s too much or I’m just like overdoing it.” Then I’m like, “I don’t know how else to get her to do it.” So I put her back in, and then I’m like, “Nope. Tap, tap tap.” I delete it. It’s just like, I’m just sitting there looking at this scene.
[0:41:12.0] SC: But you do understand the difference now of why it works in this scene and it wouldn’t work in an earlier decree, right? Because that is Jessie doesn’t have any information. She doesn’t know how long she’s been sentenced. She thinks this might be like, I don’t know, a week? Two days? You know?
[0:41:29.0] TG: Or haven’t even thought about it.
[0:41:30.0] SC: Hasn’t even thought about it.
[0:41:31.0] TG: When I look at my kids, they don’t realize what they’ve gotten themselves into until they’re sitting at it and then they’re like, even though I told them and I’m going to go on a parenting shtick here, but it’s like, “I’ve told you a hundred times, if you do this, this happens and then you do that and when this happens, we’re all surprised that this ever happened.” So I’ve been trying to think that way of just like, she has not thought past just the next decision and the fact that she wants what she wants. That’s what 12 year olds do.
[0:42:02.3] SC: What adults do? They hide information from kids that will disturb them. So it makes perfect sense why 83 doesn’t say to her when she wakes up, “Hey, you got 25 years you know?” Because what parents do and what adults do is they don’t want to share difficult information with children. So that all clicked in that moment where 83 had to level with this kid, “Hey, you just pulled the plug out of somebody, you’ve got scratches on your face, you’re bleeding, this is no joke kid. And no, you got 25 baby. It’s 25, get used to it.” That is enough to send those butterflies in your stomach just crashing.
So that revelation turns the scene dramatically. Her life, Jessie’s life has now gone from really bad to horrific and that is enough to push the reader into believing that she would, like any 12 year old, run home. So that is an example of using exposition as ammunition in a way that works and the big question you have to ask yourself, when you do something like that, and obviously intuitively, you suspected that it was working. That’s why you kept putting it back in.
The test is to say, “What has changed? Has the scene changed with this information being delivered to the character? Has that dramatically changed the value of the scene?” It moves the scene from saved to devastate, right? It moves the scene from Jessie having relief that she’s been safe from the attacking zombie to, “Oh my god.” To devastation. “I’m going to have to deal with this zombies for 25 years?” It moves it from positive to double negative.
[0:43:56.7] TG: Yeah, I was trying to pay attention to my thought process through this and the first was, I kept trying to figure out a way to do it by action. Could something happen? But I could not, I don’t know how to communicate 25 years without somebody saying it eventually. So that’s why I kept deleting it too. It’s like, “There’s got to be a better way to do this than just say it,” and then when I left it out but couldn’t come up with an action, I’m looking at it and I’m like, “This thing doesn’t change. It doesn’t get bad enough.”
Because when I wrote down, I have here my notes, I said, “I need to push her out of this world to run back home,” because I was thinking of this scene as a bridge. I’ve got to get it from this attack to, she’s going to go home. So she was just attacked and is working in horrible conditions but I need to drive it home hard how bad this is, and that was the only thing I could come up with. It’s good that it worked, it was just, I was like, trying because over and over it’s like, “Show, don’t tell, don’t say too much.”
All these things and so I’m like, “I have to get this point across,” and I was trying to look at every other option besides somebody just saying it. Then that’s when I just was like, “Okay, this is the only option.” But that’s why when I sent it to you, I’m like, “I don’t know if this works because I had to say something to get it across?”
[0:45:20.0] SC: Well, that’s that whole show versus tell stuff that can be very distracting and ridiculous. Because as I’ve said over and over again, there are two ways to turn a scene, through action or revelation. Revelation is, at the appropriate moment, having one character say to another the truth, the truth that they have no understanding of. So the very first scene that you wrote, we ended this scene with a revelation. Because we believe throughout that scene, this kid’s in trouble and she’s been offered an opportunity that’s not only going to get her out of trouble but make her life even better.
The revelation is that this is a girl who wants no part of that. Shen she says “no”, “Are you going to come?” “No.” Bang and that’s seen there because you have used the information of fact turn the scene. Now, the big mistake would have been to keep prattling on after she says “no” and having the guy says, “What do you mean no?” “Well, I just don’t want to go.” “What do you mean? You’re going to get ice cream there.” “No, I still don’t want to go.” And you’d be surprised how many people do that. It’s having the confidence in your shocking revelations that are actively displaying character. That’s a choice from the character, an active choice that defines who they are.
So when 83 says to Jessie, “You’ve got 25 years.” What she’s saying, and this is probably intuitively why I think I may have changed my point of view about this character that I don’t see her as a Judas, is the reason why is that she, 83, had the courage to look that kid in the eye and tell her the truth. So why I like that is because it’s unexpected and it says, “This 83 is okay because she told her the truth and she actively made the choice to tell her the truth.”
[0:47:16.1] TG: But isn’t that why it would be all the more devastating later to have her turn on her?
[0:47:20.2] SC: Sure, sure. But what’s great is that you have to remember as the creator of your story that you get to enjoy the creation too. This isn’t all about you feeling pain. This is about you discovering and trying and tweaking things that make you change your mind about things. This is one of the reasons why the story grid is fantastic to plot out a general map for your story and I fully wholly recommend the people do this.
But you also have to let in that window of opportunity as you’re creating the story itself to allow yourself to change your mind. You have to say, “Oh, I’m definitely setting her up as a betrayer. Or I’m definitely going to have the revelation of the end of the beginning hook be the revelation that the brother is alive, that’s definite.” But part of creating and enjoying the process of creating is saying to yourself, “Hey, wait a minute, yeah, that’s a great place to drop in the 25 year sentence and to have 83 tell her that and to give her the truth.” So many people in our lives lie to us, we’re constantly being lied to.
So when you have a story where character tells the truth, it says so much about that character in a really good way. It says, “This person has honor, this person has ethics, this person is not going to bullshit.” And that is really nice because this is her mentor, right? This is her mentor figure who has come to rescue her and the mentor looks at her and says, “25 years, I’m not going to bullshit you kid, you’re fucked. And you better get used to cleaning the toilet because this is no life, you got to make of it what you can and I’m not going to lie to you, this is the truth,” and she is the first person who has told Jessie the truth, maybe in her life and that’s really cool.
[0:49:15.7] TG: Okay. So I’m kind of divided on what to do next. Do I go to my, the thing that I love to do and map out the next six, eight, 10 scenes? Or should I just focus on the next sequence and just rewrite the next sequence to get her to the point where she’s ostracized from even the number.
[0:49:36.2] SC: I think you could do either one and do it successfully but the choice that you need to say to yourself is, “What’s going to be more fun for me?” Is staying in this moment to moment world, writing this next sequence going to be more fun that plotting out perhaps what I’ll do in the next six scenes and then applying that or is that going to be more fun?
My gut is that go with the flow, go with the juice of what just happened at the end of this scene. There is something interesting Tim in the fact that you deleted that revelation three times or four times or however many times you did but you kept putting it back in. So why did you do that beyond just not being able to figure out the end of the scene?
I think you have to give that some credence and say to yourself, “There’s something inside of me that told me to keep that in there and maybe I should just keep moving forward with this sequence and maybe I’ll discover some more things.” I know you know how to plot out 72 scenes or 60 scenes or 15 scenes or you know how to do that really well.
What you’re learning now is how to live in the minutia with the global in the back of your mind and letting that inform you without letting it control you. So my recommendation is to keep going with the sequence and get her to the threshold and you might discover even more things that you can load in later into your middle build and even maybe your ending payoff.
[END OF EPISODE]
[0:51:06.3] TG: Thanks for listening to this episode of The Story Grid Podcast. For everything Story Grid related, check out storygrid.com. Make sure you pick up a copy of the book and sign up for the newsletter, make sure you don’t miss anything happening in the Story Grid universe. If you’d like to check out the show notes for this episode or any past episodes, all of that can be found at storygrid.com/podcast. If you would like to reach out to us, you can find us on Twitter @storygrid. Lastly, if you would like to support the show, you can do that by telling another author about the show and by visiting us on iTunes and leaving a rating and review.
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